WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

(AP Photo/Salvador Melendez)

22 Mar 2019 | Press Release

El Salvador’s Proposed Amnesty Law for War Crimes Would Reverse Decades-Long Fight for Justice

On International Day for the Right to Truth, El Salvador Must Commit to Honoring the Rights of Victims

Washington, DC—In the face of a wave of criticism, both domestic and international, of a proposed law that would halt investigations into war crimes in El Salvador, the representative who introduced the proposal resigned from the National Assembly special committee on reconciliation and transitional justice. On the eve of the anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero on March 24, 1980, El Salvador continues to struggle with issues of justice, truth, and reparation stemming from its decades-long civil war. According to research and advocacy group the Washington Office on Latin Office (WOLA), while on one hand El Salvador has seen some progress on this front in recent years, the bill serves as a reminder of the lingering impact of the war, and is representative of the kind of pushback that efforts to promote justice and accountability will continue to attract.

“This so-called reconciliation law is a terrible affront to the families of victims of the conflict, who have spent decades fighting for truth and justice. It’s not surprising that there’s been such a reaction against it” said WOLA Vice President for Programs Geoff Thale. “On a day that commemorates El Salvador Archbishop Romero and his struggle for human rights, the Salvadoran National Assembly can best honor his legacy by dropping this bill and moving to create a new reconciliation law that actually satisfies the demands of truth and justice.”

The proposed “national reconciliation” law, which has yet to be finalized or formally debated on the National Assembly floor, would halt all current prosecutions involving human rights crimes committed during El Salvador’s 12-year civil war (1980-1992). It would permit a narrow set of war crimes to be investigated, but would forbid any future prosecutions. It has drawn widespread condemnation from Catholic Church leaders, human rights groups, civil society groups, and victims organizations in the country. Additionally, El Salvador’s biggest leftist party, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), has withdrawn its support for the bill. Internationally, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, condemned the proposal; as did the families of the American churchwomen killed in El Salvador in 1980, as well as more than 180 academics in a letter addressed to the Salvadoran National Assembly. While El Salvador president-elect Nayib Bukele has said he will reject the law, this could push members of the National Assembly to try and get a version of the proposed bill passed and approved by President Salvador Sánchez Cerén before Bukele’s June 1 inauguration.

“Now is the time for the U.S. government, and others in the international community who’ve supported El Salvador’s fight against impunity, to emphasize the importance of upholding human rights and accountability in El Salvador,” said Thale.

There are several major ongoing war crimes investigations ongoing in El Salvador. This includes the re-opening of investigations into the role played by the armed forces in the 1981 El Mozote massacre and the 1989 killing of six Jesuits priests, their cook and her daughter.

“The progress that El Salvador has made in investigating and re-opening prosecutions into war crimes has attracted backlash from those who’d prefer to see impunity stand,” said Thale.

See other resources on El Salvador’s proposed amnesty law:  

  • Testimony submitted by WOLA to a March 13 Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing.
  • An open letter submitted to El Salvador’s National Assembly by family members of four American churchwomen killed by the Salvadoran armed forces in 1980.
  • A letter signed by 180 academic leaders opposing the bill.